Friday, November 21, 2008

Some brief arguments for dualism, Part V

The next argument in our series is inspired by Karl Popper, and in particular by some ideas he first presented in his short article “Language and the Body-Mind Problem” (available in his collection Conjectures and Refutations) and repeated in The Self and Its Brain. As Popper originally formulated it, its immediate aim was to demonstrate the impossibility of a causal theory of linguistic meaning, but it is evident from some remarks he once made about F. A. Hayek’s book The Sensory Order that he also regarded it as a refutation of any causal theory of the mind. (See my essay “Hayek the Cognitive Scientist and Philosopher of Mind” in The Cambridge Companion to Hayek.) Hilary Putnam would later present a similar line of argument in his book Renewing Philosophy, though he does not seem to be aware of Popper’s version.

The argument as I will state it is somewhat different from anything either Popper or Putnam has said, though it is in the same spirit. Before stating the argument, it is worthwhile recalling the “mechanistic” conception of the natural world which, as I have emphasized in earlier posts in this series, implicitly or explicitly informs materialism. On this conception, the world is devoid of what Aristotelians call formal and final causes: there are in nature no substantial forms or inherent powers of the sort affirmed by the medieval Scholastics, and there is no meaning, purpose, or goal-directedness either. The physical world is instead composed entirely of inherently purposeless elements (atoms, corpuscles, quarks, or whatever) governed by inherently meaningless patterns of cause and effect. All the complex phenomena of our experience, from grapes to galaxy clusters, from mudslides to minds, must somehow be explicable in terms of these elements and the causal regularities they exhibit.

But in fact there can be no such explanation of the mind, not even in principle. In particular, there can be no such explanation of intentionality, the mind’s capacity to represent the world beyond itself – as it does, say, when your thought that the cat is on the mat represents the cat’s being on the mat.

The reason is this. As already indicated, any materialistic explanation of intentionality is bound to be a causal explanation. That is to say, it is going to be an attempt to show that the intentionality of a mental state somehow derives from its causal relations. The causal relations in question might be internal to the brain (as they are according to “internalist” theories of meaning); they might extend beyond the brain to objects and events in a person’s environment (as they do according to “externalist” theories); they may even extend backwards in time millions of years to the environment in which our ancestors evolved (as they do according to “biosemantic” theories). An adequate description of the relevant causal relations may require any number of technical qualifications (such as an appeal to Fodor’s notion of “asymmetric dependence”). In every case, though, a materialist is bound to appeal to some pattern of causal relations or other as the key to explaining intentionality. He’s got nothing else to appeal to, after all; the basic elements out of which everything in the physical world is made are by his own admission devoid of any meaning (“intentionality simply doesn’t go that deep,” as Fodor insists in Psychosemantics) and anything other than these elements exists only insofar as causal interactions between the elements generates it.

Now, specifying the relevant causal relation entails specifying a relevant beginning point to the series and a relevant end point. We have to identify some physical phenomenon as that which does the representing, and some other physical phenomenon as that which is represented; or in other words, we have to pick out one thing as the thought, and another thing as that which is thought about. To take a simple example, if we imagine that a certain brain process is associated with the thought that the cat is on the mat because it is caused in such-and-such a way by the presence of cats on mats, then we will have to take the cat’s presence on the mat as the beginning of the relevant causal chain (call it A) and the occurrence of the brain process in question (call it B) as the end. (Of course, specifying exactly what the “such-and-such a way” involves can get pretty complicated, as anyone familiar with the contemporary literature knows, but the complications are irrelevant for our purposes here.)

But what objective reason is there to identify A and B as “the beginning” and “the end” of a causal sequence? Consider what happens in a situation like the one in question. Someone flips on a light switch, which causes electrical current to flow through the wires in the wall up to a ceiling lamp. Light from the lamp travels to a cat sitting on a mat below, is reflected off of the cat, and travels to the retinas of a nearby observer. This in turn causes signals to be sent up the optic nerves to the brain, which results in the firing of a certain cluster of neurons, which in turn results in the firing of another cluster, which in turn results in the firing of yet another cluster, and so on and so forth. All this neural activity ultimately results in a behavioral response, such as walking over to the refrigerator to get the milk bottle out so as to give the cat a snack. And this is followed, say, by an accidental dropping of the milk bottle, which results in broken glass, a cut to the ankle, a yelp of pain, and the kicking of the cat.

Now, again, what is it about this complex chain of events that justifies picking out A and B specifically and labeling them “the beginning” and “the end” respectively? Why is it the cat’s presence on the mat that counts as “the beginning” – rather than, say, the flipping of the light switch, or the flow of the current to the ceiling lamp, or the arrival of such-and-such a photon at exactly the midpoint between the surface of the cat and the observer’s left retina? Why is it brain process B exactly that counts as “the end” of the causal chain – rather than, say, the brain process immediately before B or immediately after B, or the walk over to the refrigerator, or the motion of such-and-such a shard of glass from the broken milk bottle as it skips across the floor? Of course, we have an interest in picking out and identifying cats and not in picking out and identifying individual photons, and an interest in brain processes and their associated mental states that we don’t have in shards of glass. But that is a fact about us, not a fact about the physical world itself. Objectively, as far as the physical world itself is concerned, there is just the ongoing and incredibly complex sequence of causes and effects, which extends indefinitely forward and backward in time well beyond the events we have described. Objectively, that is to say, there is no such thing as “the beginning” or “the end,” and nothing inherently significant about any one event as compared to another.

Popper’s point, and Putnam’s, is that what count as the “beginning” and “end” points of such a causal sequence, and thus what counts as “the causal sequence” itself considered in isolation from the rest of the overall causal situation, are interest relative. These particular aspects of the overall causal situation have no special significance apart from a mind which interprets them as having it. But in that case they cannot coherently be appealed to in order to explain the mind. It is no good saying that the representational character of our mental states derives from their causal relations when the causal relations themselves cannot be specified except in terms of how they are represented by certain mental states. A vicious circularity afflicts any such “theory” of intentionality.

Now it is important to emphasize that the point is not that causation per se is interest relative or mind-dependent; the argument is not an exercise in idealism or anti-realism. The overall complex ongoing sequence of causes and effects is entirely mind-independent. The claim, again, is just that something’s counting as a “beginning” or “end” point within the series is interest-relative and mind-dependent. Still, even this much might seem to be too close to idealism or anti-realism for comfort. It might seem to make causal explanations somehow subjective and arbitrary. (Indeed, Putnam attributes something like this sort of objection to Noam Chomsky.) But to fear that the Popper/Putnam argument we’ve been considering might entail that causal explanations are somehow subjective or arbitrary doesn’t show that the argument is wrong.

Is there any way to reconcile the argument with the objectivity and non-arbitrariness of causal explanations? Absolutely. The way to do it is to show that certain physical phenomena really can objectively count as the beginning or end points of a causal sequence after all – that they can indeed be picked out in a way that is not mind-dependent or interest-relative. But how can that be done? By showing that natural objects and processes are by their natures inherently directed towards the generation of certain other natural objects and processes as an “end” or “goal.” That is to say, by showing that natural objects and processes have what Aristotelians call substantial forms and final causes. In short, the way to explain how causal explanations can be objective and non-arbitrary as opposed to subjective and interest-relative is to acknowledge that the mechanistic conception of the world is mistaken, and that the Aristotelian-Scholastic conception that it replaced is correct after all.

So, the Popper/Putnam argument shows that the mechanistic conception of nature to which materialists are explicitly or implicitly committed entails that there can be no materialistic explanation of the mind. (As we have seen in earlier posts in this series, other arguments tend to show the same thing.) And the only way to sidestep the argument is to abandon the mechanistic conception of nature, which entails rejecting materialism anyway. Either way, materialism is refuted.

What positive view results? That depends. If one holds on to the mechanistic conception of nature, the result would seem to be some broadly Cartesian form of dualism – either substance dualism or property dualism. (Popper himself opted for the former. Putnam does not consider what consequences his view might have for the dualism/materialism debate.) If instead on opts to return to an Aristotelian conception of nature – the right choice, in my view – then one is on the path toward hylemorphic or Thomistic dualism. (I examine these options in my book Philosophy of Mind and defend the latter at length in The Last Superstition.)

Hence, one way or the other dualism is vindicated. And as with the arguments presented in earlier posts in this series, it will not to do object to this one that it somehow “violates Ockham’s razor,” that materialism is the “simpler explanation,” and so forth. Such objections can only have force against attempts to present dualism as a “probable” “hypothesis” “postulated” as the “best explanation” of the “data.” That is not the sort of argument I have given. As I have already said, the argument just presented is an attempt to show that materialism fails in principle; it purports to be a metaphysical demonstration of the falsity of materialism, not a piece of quasi-empirical theorizing. If it fails (and obviously I don’t think it does), it does not fail for the sorts of reasons empirical hypotheses do.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

In your book, do you at all get into quantum mechanical experiments/discoveries and their impact on a materialistic/mechanistic metaphysic? And either way, do you have anything to say on that topic?

Since, philosophical arguments aside, I've heard multiple and on the surface compelling arguments that QM radically undercuts the materialist picture of the world.

Damien S said...

Ed

Thanks for the informative post.

Couldn't the materialist use evolutionary adaptation as a way to explain how the materialist would account for such intentionality and representation.

Also, have you got an opinion on emergent dualism? Or William Hasker's work in particular? It seems more grounded in science and the physical world than thomism though I admit that I like both of these more than substance dualism or materialism.

Edward Feser said...

Hello anonymous,

No, I don't have much to say about QM, because the arguments I think go deepest concern not empirical science per se but rather the false "mechanistic" philosophy of nature that underlies the standard interpretation of empirical science.

Hello Damien,

The short answer is that evolutionary adaptation is no help at all, because it too requires identifying in a non-arbitrary way certain "beginning" and "ending" points of a causal series -- even if the series extends back millions of years -- and this cannot be done on a mechanistic conception of nature. Anyway, I deal with evolutionary accounts of meaning at some length in The Last Superstition.

Re: Hasker, I do admire his book The Emergent Self very much, but more for its astute criticisms of materialism than for his positive views. As you might expect, I disagree with the claim that emergent dualism is more in line with empirical science than Thomistic dualism is. I would say that the dispute between them -- and with materialism too -- concerns, not any empirical results, but rather the philosophical/metaphysical framework in terms of which those results are to be interpreted. Again, see The Last Superstition for details.

ari said...

Dr. Fesser,

Do you (or will you in the future) have a book that actually deals with applied philosophy?

Heady stuff is great, but something that actually demonstrates their practical application in real life would be capital.

Anonymous said...

Ari must not read very much philosophy if he thinks Feser's work is especially 'heady' and removed from real life. Everything he has written on this blog and his book on the philosophy of mind stays close to the main issues, which are ultimately about how we are to understand ourselves and other people. What kind of 'practical application' should one want from the philosophy of mind? Surely not, say, empirically testable hypotheses -- as Feser repeatedly stresses, he's writing about metaphysical questions, not empirical ones. Is Ari perhaps curious about the implications of Feser's views on mind for ethics? Well, then he should read TLS, which argues clearly that there are some very important ones. Does Ari perhaps want Feser to write a book explaining to us exactly how we should think about current political issues? That wouldn't be philosophy, but philosophically informed politics at best.

I, for one, don't find anything that Feser writes to be especially 'heady' or removed from real life. I certainly don't always agree, but I almost always find it challenging and insightful. Whatever applied philosophy is, Feser, don't write it.

ari said...

Anon,

Your comments are as bit illogical as they are preposterous and embarrasingly ignorant.

For one, you wrongly assumed that by my comments "heady", I was describing Feser's work (on the contrary, it was in reference to some Cambridge stuff I had actually read).

The fact of the matter is, I would not have worded my inquiry thus-and-so (and the inquiry itself would not even exist in the first place!) if I had actually read any of his works.

The inquiry itself evinces the latter fact as its very purpose was to solicit such information!

Furthermore, if you should mock the term "applied philosophy", I suggest you look into the very history of such renowned universities as Cambridge & Oxford.

The arrogant mockery would've been pathetic by itself if not for the fact that it shouted ignorance in addition.

J said...

As already indicated, any materialistic explanation of intentionality is bound to be a causal explanation. That is to say, it is going to be an attempt to show that the intentionality of a mental state somehow derives from its causal relations.

Either human thinking and intentionality is realized bio-chemically and neurologically, or it isn't (as per law of excluded middle): so it's more an issue of weighing the two competing claims. I agree materialism and strict determinism pose problems: a Dennett or whoever might say that strict determinism holds, but they cannot readily identify all the parts of some causal chain (so they forget Hume at least), and they assume the truth of the old mechanistic maxim--"every event must have a cause" withour proving it (rather formidable). Monism (or material idealism, in effect--matter thinks) another possibility most of the strict determinists overlook, but that might not be so congenial to the religious.

At the same time, bio-dependency of some type seems rather plausible, however unsettling to metaphysicians (or theologians who insist on immaterialism). Recent developments in neuro-kinetics also would seem to support a physiological theory of mind: if researchers can insert a interface into the brain which translates neurological activity into commands, and people can, say, type on a keypad merely by thinking, hasn't some physiological mental causation been established? It would seem so.
For that matter, DUI laws nearly suggest as much: x imbibes a certain amount of booze, and he can no longer think clearly enough to drive (and it seems rather difficult to reject the premise that driving a car involves cognition).

So the law holds that consuming alcohol over a certain amount is sufficient to show that a person's cognitive abilities have been affected by external, physical factors--alcohol in the case of DUIs.


QED

Anonymous said...

Ari, you worded your question in a way that suggests that you have read some of Feser's work and that it isn't practical enough for you. That, at least, is the natural way to understand the force of 'actually.' In that context, your reference to 'heady stuff' seems like a reference to Feser's work, not to somebody else's. If you'd like, we can take a poll of readers to find out how many of them read your post as suggesting that Feser's work has no 'practical application in real life.' I'll bet most did. At the very least, you can't pretend that your post isn't easy to read in that way or that it's just obvious that you had something else in mind. On the other hand, it seems as though English isn't your first language, so the confusion is understandable.

As for J's comments, I can see two problems. The first is that he just hasn't been paying attention to what Feser says, since Feser is clearly not arguing for a Cartesian kind of substance dualism that would make all 'mental' activity utterly independent of the brain. If you really think dualists (even Cartesians!) just haven't noticed that, say, alcohol impairs perception, judgment, motor skills, and so on, then you need to do some more homework. More to the point, Aristotelians insist on the necessary connection of many 'mental' capacities and activities to the body and the brain (thus some Aristotelians, like David Braine and Anthony Kenny, refuse to call their view a form of dualism at all, and others, like John Haldane, are very careful to insist that it is more of a 'dual aspect' theory than a substance dualist (or even property dualist) view). Aristotelians also typically insist that we share many of our basic mental capacities (like perception and imagination) with non-human animals, but aren't arguing that those animals have 'souls' that can survive their bodily deaths. Rather, Aristotelians who believe in that possibility in the case of humans base their case on the immateriality of conceptual thought, not on the irreducibility of the mental to the physical as conceived by most materialists.

It would perhaps be helpful to distinguish the irreducibility of the mental to the physical from the independence of the one from the other. Irreducibility has no implications for independence, and we have every reason to believe that mental activities like perceiving and imagining are impossible in the absence of the right kinds of physical processes (not just in the brain, but in the eyes, the ears, the nerves, and so on). There are also multiple ways in which one might be dependent on another. In the case of perception and imagination, it seems clear that the physical processes are a kind of medium for the mental processes; hence the mental activities are intrinsically dependent on the physical processes. In the case of conceptual thought, however, it isn't clear at all, since there seems to be no organ of conceptual thought, no particular kind of event in the brain that correlates to (let alone causes!) 'having a thought about pickles,' 'believing that Jim Morrison is overrated,' or 'intending to read more about Aristotelian views in the philosophy of mind so as not to appear so silly in blog discussions.' Yet there may be various kinds of dependence involved here as well; ordinary physical functioning might be an absolutely necessary condition for doing this kind of thinking at all, or it might simply be a necessary condition for coming to be able to do this kind of thinking, but not for being able to continue doing it after physical functioning ceases. I admit I'm more than a little perplexed about how that would work, since any form of post-mortem existence would seem to involve having no memories. But not all Aristotelians think that the soul survives death, though almost all agree that genuine conceptual thought is immaterial in an important sense.

It might also be helpful to point out that holding this view does not commit one to the view that the mental is caused by the physical; as Feser has argued repeatedly, such a view depends on an emaciated conception of causality that, if it's even coherent in itself, is certainly not compelling.

In light of all this, it's easy to see a second problem. J says: "Either human thinking and intentionality is realized bio-chemically and neurologically, or it isn't (as per law of excluded middle)." But it should now be clear that "realized bio-chemically and neurologically" can mean a whole hell of a lot of things, as can 'human thinking and intentionality.' Meanwhile, Feser has put forth an argument (endorsed by Hilary Putnam, who is almost certainly one of the most formidable philosophers of mind alive) to the effect that no causal theory of the mind can possibly make sense. Coupled with the claim that any materialist theory will have to be a causal theory, one needs either to refute his argument or accept it. So even if you find some acceptably clear and meaningful sense for your disjunction (either thinking is 'realized' neurologically or biochemically' or not), it won't due to respond to Feser's argument by saying that it just seems more plausible that it is than that it isn't, especially since it isn't at all clear that Feser's argument entails that it isn't!

Anonymous said...

Correction: it won't do...

J said...

I find it remarkable how the clever theologian or metaphysician can offer ye olde Ad Aristotle and believe he has established something: for one, that's an appeal to authority fallacy, and two for all the supposed gravitas of Aristotelian thought, it's like sort of been revised (at least starting with Descartes and Hobbes)--and really, I suspect the old Stagirite was not as mystical as some papists believe.

Anyway, I don't deny a certain anomalous quality to human conceptual thinking, but that does not suffice to disprove physicalism or determinism (strict or "weak"). Invoking intention is not really that much of an argument either: yes, humans seem to possess decision-making powers beyond other mammals, but then one might argue that monkeys have powers (rudimentary tool building or communication of some sort) beyond say lizards or something.

Moreover, it's not logically impossible those supposed "anomalous" human capabilities evolved: certainly the progress of language and scientific knowledge suggests as much. There were hundreds of centuries of gibbering cave men and women before writing, and before Aristotle.......

I might agree to "property dualism", but only in the sense that cogsci cannot explain certain features of consciousness, and so those features appear unique and even mysterious at this stage of human knowledge: given a century or two of further research in cog.sci. that probably will not be the case. So again, it's a matter of plausibility: though it may be premature to say all mental events are brain events, that could indeed turn out to be the case, however offensive that might be to some in the theology business.

Eric said...

"I find it remarkable how the clever theologian or metaphysician can offer ye olde Ad Aristotle and believe he has established something: for one, that's an appeal to authority fallacy, and two for all the supposed gravitas of Aristotelian thought, it's like sort of been revised (at least starting with Descartes and Hobbes)"

Hi J

Anonymous didn't appeal to Aristotle's authority; rather, he presented an argument, and was simply clear that it was on Aristotelian grounds. Ironically, though, you did appeal to authority in your dismissal of Aristotle, by simply claiming (without argument) that Aristotle had been 'revised' by modern philosophers. (I would have thought that refutation, not mere revision, would be required here.) Also, you appealed to the antiquity of Aristotle's thought; it seems to me that the issue is whether what he said is true, not when he said it.

"Invoking intention is not really that much of an argument either: yes, humans seem to possess decision-making powers beyond other mammals, but then one might argue that monkeys have powers (rudimentary tool building or communication of some sort) beyond say lizards or something."

I think the point of intentionality is that it isn't the sort of phenomena that *could* be explained if physicalism obtained (because of the reasons Professor Feser provides in this post, and in others).

"I might agree to "property dualism", but only in the sense that cogsci cannot explain certain features of consciousness, and so those features appear unique and even mysterious at this stage of human knowledge: given a century or two of further research in cog.sci. that probably will not be the case. So again, it's a matter of plausibility."

If this is a metaphysical argument -- which it is -- then it's not the case that some future discovery in cognitive science could somehow refute it (as Professor Feser emphasizes at the end of his post).

J said...

Does Popper (or Dr. Feser) offer some necessary argument for intention as proof of immaterialism? It does not appear so. As with much of his writing, Popper makes some rather grand claims and offers some conjectures (in his usual grand manner), and then sort of develops his own conjectures.

Note Popper's insistence that if the station-master has a belief that the train is leaving in addition to his belief-like behaviour, then immaterialism holds (or something "approximately Cartesian"). Sounds alright, maybe, but really not axiomatic: indeed still an inductive claim, I would contend. Popper more or less suggests that If a human believes something, then he has a soul. Rather grand.

Belief--whatever it is--may indicate the anomalous nature of human cognitive skills and abilities, but I think it's a bit of a leap to assume that proves immaterialism, or even that it shows "the body-mind problem arises in approximately Cartesian form."

A belief that exists in addition to or beyond behavior may show the body-mind problem, but it does not prove Descartes's Res Cogitans, anymore than Descartes himself does. For one, proof of x's existence (even an ego) itself would seem to require, well, proof. Of course, that's what's great about scholastic logic: you can make stuff appear (or appear to appear) merely by clever deductions--another point Hobbes (and the early experimentalists) had raised rather forcefully contra-Descartes (and schoolmen as a whole). Had Descartes really been serious about methodical doubt, he might have begun by a permanent fast, if not cutting off his hands (or what appeared to be his hands)...

Eric said...

Hi J

It seems to me that the following portion of Professor Feser's post shows that this is not an 'inductive,' probabilistic argument, but a 'necessary argument' of the sort you asked for (if it's sound):


"Popper’s point, and Putnam’s, is that what count as the “beginning” and “end” points of such a causal sequence, and thus what counts as “the causal sequence” itself considered in isolation from the rest of the overall causal situation, are interest relative. These particular aspects of the overall causal situation have no special significance apart from a mind which interprets them as having it. But in that case they cannot coherently be appealed to in order to explain the mind. It is no good saying that the representational character of our mental states derives from their causal relations when the causal relations themselves cannot be specified except in terms of how they are represented by certain mental states. A vicious circularity afflicts any such “theory” of intentionality...So, the Popper/Putnam argument shows that the mechanistic conception of nature to which materialists are explicitly or implicitly committed entails that there can be no materialistic explanation of the mind. (As we have seen in earlier posts in this series, other arguments tend to show the same thing.) And the only way to sidestep the argument is to abandon the mechanistic conception of nature, which entails rejecting materialism anyway. Either way, materialism is refuted."

J said...

Hi Eric

Let's put it this way: materialism/physicalism may have problems as an ontology or philosophical doctrine (ie explaining something like "belief"--though some (ie Quineans) would claim beliefs don't really exist). Then so does dualism of whatever sort, or idealism. At the very least, much useful knowledge (ie medicine, chemistry, engineering, economics etc) depends on the assumption of physicalism to a certain degree. The periodic table is not about "ideas" or beliefs. I am not arguing for some billiard ball materialism, or even for the Quine/Skinner sort of thing: but suggesting that a physiological basis for mental events (including something we call intention, or belief, deliberation, etc) seems more plausible than dualistic immaterialism. And I think there's something to Hobbes' point that thinking implies a thinker, and a thinker seems to presume corporeality of some type (and really a brain), even if thinking's "anomalous."

Anyway, I am not sure I would grant the soundness of the quoted argument. The first part seems fairly reasonable, if somewhat "sophistic" : we cannot easily prove that "the representational character of our mental states derive from their physical, causal relations when the causal relations themselves cannot be specified except in terms of how they are represented by certain mental states." Again, I would take a somewhat Humean view of this: we can't prove it, but can hardly reject the possibility that our represenations and mental states do have some relation (even necessary) to a real, physical, and determined world. The periodic table is not "a representation of mental states": its a representation of nature.

I'm willing to grant that perception of phenomena is subject, to some degree, to Kantian "rose tinted glasses" (human vision itself)--but not to grant that we perceive nothing but illusions, or that there's nothing out there which has a causal relation to our perceptions (if I read this right--I think Popper tends to conflate epistemology and proof problems with grand ontological claims). Furthermore the second part of the argument seems a bit of a non sequitur:

"""A vicious circularity afflicts any such “theory” of intentionality...So, the Popper/Putnam argument shows that the mechanistic conception of nature to which materialists are explicitly or implicitly committed entails that there can be no materialistic explanation of the mind.""""

I don't think that leap is justified: the immaterialist or dualist of whatever sort has at least as much a problem justifying his own transcendent ontology, if not greater.

Anonymous said...

J,

How about recognizing that when Feser talks about 'intentionality,' he isn't talking about the 'intentions' that you keep invoking. Granted, this is confusing terminology, but it's rather standard in the philosophy of mind. 'Intentionality' picks out that feature of many (perhaps all) distinctively mental states which might be roughly paraphrased as 'aboutness' or 'object-directedness.' Beliefs are about something, desires are for something, perceptions are of something, and so on and so forth. There are, of course, connections between intentionality and intentions, but they aren't the same thing.

As for appealing to Aristotle's authority, you should go back and read again. I'm not arguing that any view must be right because it's Aristotle's. I'm arguing that you don't understand the Aristotelian view at all. You've said nothing to suggest otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Also, I don't think anybody here is suggesting that 'mental states' don't bear some relation to the real world. Again, you're acting as though there's just no meaningful difference between Cartesian dualism and any other view that rejects materialism. Since I've already explained how Aristotelians do see a necessary connection between 'mental states' and the body (not just the brain), I'll rest my case until you actually address what's already been said.

Again, if you want to rest your case on 'plausibility,' you're not only misunderstanding the nature of metaphysical arguments. You're also, in effect, saying nothing more than "I just can't believe it. No way." Plausibility is too subjective to ground anything on its own.

J said...

Let's put it this way: if you think (as many of the old Right Reasoners seem to) that philosophy concerns tradition and dogma and not logic, verification, and proof then any arguments will not convince you otherwise. I don't think you understand Descartes arguments for the Res Cogitans, or Hobbes' effective counter-thrust.

I have a fairly good grasp of modern phil. and cognitive science (not to say verification), and don't have to prove my knowledge of the discarded ptolemaic system, or the old elements. The essay written by Popper which Doc Feser linked to specifically mentioned Descartes and the mind-body problem; call me radical, but I think that Descartes represents an advance (both philosophically and scientifically) on Aristotle--though at the same time he upholds much of the scholastic dogma. I did not claim Descartes should be tossed out in toto: I said (like many, including Hobbes) that he cannot derive a transcendent or even unified ego or soul from the fact that he thinks and exists in some fashion.

Popper, following Descartes (though hardly as rational), is the one making the fairly outrageous claim that mere belief (yes, belief about something) implies transcendence (a soul), without really developing his argument beyond something like "X has a belief which determinism and empiricism cannot account for, therefore mind exists." Indeed, that appears on examination to be a type of fallacy itself: ad ignorantium methinx (rather common to theists: you can't prove that a God doesn't exist--therefore He does! not at all valid). Really, we could dispute that the stationmaster has a belief at all (have him show it to us).

Popper also takes a rather skeptical view (not even Aristotelian) and assumes causation is purely mental and subjective--a view counter to like the last 400 years of modern science (tho' KP flip flops regularly). Quine himself objects to that ultra-skepticism: referential aspects of language depend on observation and extra-linguistic factors, whether one can establish them deductively or not.

J said...

For that matter, empiricism (and dare we say materialism) is not unknown in Catholic tradition:

"Nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit prius in sensu."

So, like St. Aquinas the heretic, and even Lockean. At the very least that seems to be a denial of a priori knowledge, one of the dualists or rationalists points of faith.

Anonymous said...

J,

I don't know why you assume that everybody disagreeing with you here is a Catholic or even a theist. I, for one, am about as agnostic as one can be without being dishonest. As I've already said, I have doubts about the coherence, let alone the truth, of Thomistic arguments about the possibility of post mortem survival. Similarly, there are plenty of people willing to defend a broadly Aristotelian view of these things who aren't theists or Catholics either. Anthony Kenny, for one (and the fact that he used to be a Catholic doesn't help your position, but rather hurts it, since it shows that one can continue to find a whole lot of Aquinas insightful even if one rejects the claims of the Catholic Church); Bob Pasnau, for another, if you like. Or the similar views defended by Putnam and Nussbaum (who are anti-realists to boot, further broadening the field of people who find an Aristotelian view of mind more than defensible).

Beyond that, I haven't even been arguing that Aristotelian views are true. I have been arguing for the far simpler and less ambitious claim that you've said nothing whatsoever that tells against them and don't even seem to understand what you're arguing against.

As for Descartes being an improvement on the Aristotelian view -- can you even say what the difference between the two views is? At this point, I'm not sure you'd find anybody but a few hardcore substance dualists who would agree. Even if you think that the metaphysical view is ultimately untenable, it's hard to see how anybody who isn't a substance dualist (or perhaps an 'emergent' dualist) could think that Descartes' view on the mind is superior to Aristotle's. It's also hard to see how somebody who loves cognitive science as much as you claim to could be of that view, since the view of the mind that emerges from cognitive science is far closer to Aristotle's view than to anything Descartes ever said.

We could start just by asking what 'mind' is on each view. For Descartes and his followers, the mental is primarily characterized by consciousness (which, on his view and against that of Aristotle and others, requires self-consciousness, so that animals without the capacity for abstract conceptual thought can't be conscious); for Aristotle, the 'mind' that makes human beings rational animals is a set of capacities for conceptual thought and symbolic communication; these capacities build on capacities for intelligent perceptual and imaginative management of one's environment that human beings share with non-rational animals. Now, unless one thinks that modern cognitive science and functionalism in the philosophy of mind are just totally ridiculous and utterly absurd, it's hard to see how the Cartesian view could be superior to the Aristotelian (and no, I'm not saying that Aristotle is a functionalist, just that functionalism bears a much closer resemblance to the Aristotelian view than it does to the Cartesian view).

On the Aristotelian view, there is just no sense to be had in identifying mental states or processes with material ones. But it does not follow that they therefore require an immaterial substance or that they don't require very particular material processes. That is just as true for perceptions as for abstract thoughts, even though Aristotle never countenanced the idea that one could possibly perceive without a body. The Aristotelian argument for the 'separability' of the mind from the body depends on the argument that conceptual thought does not (and could not) occur through an organ. If that view is false, then so is Aristotle's argument. But even if it's true, it doesn't follow (so far as I can tell) that the mind could possibly exist apart from the body.

Seriously. Go and read Anthony Kenny's The Metaphysics of Mind or Putnam and Nussbaum's article Changing Aristotle's Mind. If you still think afterwards that the Cartesian view is superior, then you're probably a substance dualist.

As for nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit prius in sensu, if you think that's empiricism in any meaningful sense, then you either don't understand empiricism or you don't understand Aquinas (read that as an inclusive 'or').

Anonymous said...

Furthermore, your claim that dualists can't deny a priori knowledge is just bizarre, even if you limit 'dualist' to 'substance' or 'emergent' dualist and disregard Aristotelians. From the fact (if it is one) that I cannot have any ideas at all unless I somehow arrive at them from sense perception, it does not follow that substance dualism cannot be true or that I cannot know that it is true.

Of course, if you think a priori knowledge is the only kind of knowledge that could be knowledge of necessary truths, and you think that nihil in intellectu entails the denial of a priori knowledge, then you would be denying the possibility of metaphysics. But then you'd have to reject materialism just as much as you reject dualism. And besides, you'd be pretty stupid to deny a posteriori necessity (let alone that nihil in intellectu entails a denial of a priori knowledge).

So if you're just a hard-core empiricist, then give up on metaphysics and insist that it's all just a bunch of meaningless talk. Or, talk metaphysics, but give up on hard-core empiricism (which is all but refuted anyways).

J said...

As for Descartes being an improvement on the Aristotelian view -- can you even say what the difference between the two views is?

Funny, I was about to ask you the same thing--but before we get to that, can you like define a valid argument? Or say provide a necessary argument for any a "a priori" truths, whether logical/mathematical entities, or a transcendent ego? Highly unlikely. You can speculate ala Kant and insist that empiricism can't account for apparent universality or necessity, but that's not proof; furthermore, even if one grants the epistemological point that empiricism seems incapable of establishing "a priori knowledge" that does not at all justify a leap of faith to belief in a soul, some vague realm of universals or forms, or any theological entities.

Any proofs of "a prioricity" assume they very thing they set out to prove anyway (as do even the baby syllogisms of Aristotle). I tend to think the syllogistic (and arithmetic, geometry, science itself) was developed over a course of centuries by humans, and was codified later on by some bright greeks (brught but hardly PC). Aristotle suggests as much when he suggested the law of contradiction should be presumed to be a "given" and self evident: he can't really prove it, any more than you can prove that supposed "analytical a priori" knowledge is in fact "analytical a priori". Blind men would not have developed geometry (or science at all, most likely).

The best the rationalist or metaphysical realist can say is that empiricists at this present stage of knowledge do not seem capable of accounting for "analytical a priori" knowledge, whether in terms of logic/mathematical entities or a Cartesian mind/soul. You made the claim of transcendent dualism and Cartesian skepticism (ala causation/induction is all mind created and has no relation to external reality). The burden of proof is on you.

J said...

For that matter, science has done quite well w/o Aristotle's "teleological" cause--and evolution provides quite a few instances of failed/imperfect species (the turkey ("pavo") one--with better wings it wouldn't be subject to mass extermination each year). Some Designer--and of course one could raise all the obvious, boring problems with a Design hypothesis (or any theological argument which puts a God in nature): black plague, courtesy of JHVH. Entropy, via JHVH. Hitler/Stalin, via JHVH.

Indeed, the Aristotelian form/matter schema seems rather akin to Hegelian mystic idealism (anathema by most catholics). Yr probably better off with the strict dualism of Descartes, with a mechanistic view of nature (congenial to Galilleo, and modern physics for most part--Newton updated a bit)

(I respect that view---the perception is not the ding an sich-- but do not assume that "Res Cogitans" floats in some immaterial realm--property dualism as they say, until cognitivist work it all out)

Anonymous said...

Alright, J, you've proven by now that your understanding of philosophy comes largely from a few undergraduate lecture courses and some random google surfing. Can I define a valid argument? Uhhh, yeah. A valid argument is one in which the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. Only deductive arguments can be valid, but I gather from your leap from 'valid argument' to 'a priori truth' that you might not understand that not all deductive arguments are a priori. As for whether I can give any arguments for a priori truths, that depends on what (if anything) counts as a priori. If mathematics is a priori, then any mathematical proof will count. Perhaps "If a person is the president of the united states, he is not a monarch" is a priori. Or perhaps not. I don't have any vested interest in there being any a priori knowledge, and I'm not married to anything like the analytic/synthetic distinction. I just don't have any strong view on that, but it doesn't matter when it comes to metaphysics. The only position on these matters that is resolutely anti-metaphysical is classical empiricism, which maintains that only a priori truths can be necessary, and only because they are strictly analytic (and hence a matter of the meaning of a word or a concept), while all empirical knowledge is strictly contingent. But that kind of empiricism is just as corrosive of the metaphysics of, say, materialism or physicalism as it is of dualism, hylomorphism, idealism, or whatever -- and there's a reason why virtually everybody now rejects it (including Quine, whom you seem to have heard of).

Now what a priori knowledge has to do with dualism, I have no idea. Conceivably, it might have something to do with it, but there's nothing in the very idea of a priori knowledge that entails dualism. If there is, then Noam Chomsky has to be a dualist, and I think he'd find that suggestion highly amusing. Nor do defenders necessarily rely on a priori knowledge, at least not in any sense in which we might dispute that there is any. All of the standard arguments for substance dualism are deductive arguments, it's true, but as I've already pointed out, that doesn't mean that they yield a priori knowledge. Arguments for dualism appeal to purported facts about the way things are (e.g., mental states are intentional), but there is no reason that I can see why dualists should have to claim that they did not gain their knowledge of these purported facts from experience.

As for arguments presupposing what they set out to prove, um, I'm afraid you're going to shoot yourself in the foot if you aren't careful. It is just impossible to prove the validity of the basic forms of deductive inference precisely because any argument to that effect would presuppose their validity. Why should that count against their validity? Can you provide an argument to that effect that does not itself presuppose their validity? These are just laws of thought, my boy. You can choose between accepting them or not thinking at all. The same goes for the law of non-contradiction.

Now, perhaps what you're getting at in all of this is that you want to say that we can't know these things because we don't know them empirically. At least, I'm assuming that you don't want to say that we do know them empirically, because that would be incoherent. Perhaps you mistakenly think that if someone says that we do not know something empirically, he means that we could know it even if we had never had a single bit of perceptual experience in our lives. If that's all your rejecting, then you're right, but the point is trivial because not even Plato believed that (and if anybody counts as a proponent of the sorts of views you seem not to like, it must be Plato). So if you aren't interested in claiming that we can know things like the validity of the basic forms of deductive inference or the truth of the principle of non-contradiction empirically, then you must either be interested in saying that we can't know them at all because we can't know them empirically or that there is something besides empirical knowledge. But you seem to be opposed to anything but empirical knowledge. So you must be interested in claiming that we don't have knowledge of things like the principle of non-contradiction or the validity of the basic forms of deductive inference. But if that's what you're interested in saying, then you'll probably reject my argument, because it makes use of all of those things that you say we can't know. But perhaps I've misunderstood you. Your prose is hardly the most transparent the world has ever seen.

Finally, I'm going to insist that you stop attributing things to me that I haven't said. I haven't defended Cartesian dualism and I certainly haven't claimed that causation is a mental projection. I would, though, challenge you to show me how a consistent empiricist could take a non-Humean view of causation and induction. I suspect that you've just got such an inflated notion of what 'empiricism' and its opponents are that you don't see the problems here.

Finally, you haven't got the vaguest idea what you're talking about when it comes to Aristotelian teleology (but that's not a surprise, since most philosophers since about the 17th century haven't, either). It is extremely debatable whether or not 'science' (which one? haven't you noticed that there are many of them?) has really done away with natural teleology. Some philosophers certainly think that they can translate modern biology into non-teleological terms, but that isn't what science itself does and none of the philosophers who say that they can do this seem to have done it. One might also be able to show that teleology is not fundamental and can itself be explained in terms of patterns of efficient causes; but even if that's true, it hardly eliminates teleology or shows that it's an illusion. If you think modern biology has done away with Aristotle, you might try to read some real biologists instead of some metaphysicians (start, perhaps, with Ernst Mayr's the Growth of Biological Thought). If you think that Aristotelian teleology has anything to do with 'design hypotheses,' you're wrong. It's true that Aquinas has a 'teleological argument' for the existence of God, but that argument is neither anything like modern inductive design arguments nor anything like what one finds in Aristotle. You're right that Aristotle's belief in the eternity of species is false, but he wouldn't have had much difficulty with that fact. Besides, nobody here is claiming that Aristotle (or Aquinas, or anyone else) didn't get things wrong. There's a whole lot wrong in Aristotle. But you haven't got the vaguest clue what it is.

Finally, the fact that you think that theistic arguments put a God in nature shows that you, once again, don't know what the hell you're talking about. Classical theism, anyway, goes to great pains to insist that God transcends the world. I'm not defending that claim; I'm just pointing out that you, once again, don't even know enough about the subject to have a reasonable conversation about it.

Go read and spare us your drivel.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Hey Opus Dei-Stein: even the old school papists had enough spine to take on corruption (including zionist corruption): now you work for 'em. Aristotelians for Meyer Lansky!

As far as the criticism of Design argument, that's pretty much verbatim from Bertrand Russell (yes, that Cambridge fiend, pal of Einstein, Eddington, etc.).


You have no arguments--just bogus heritage, dogma, and pseudo-logic (after 1960 or so, Popper was a crackpot, about the equal of a Kreskin).

Warren said...

J,

You forgot to add "Jew-lover".

Thanks for letting the mask drop.

J said...

Mask? Perhaps we unearth some older Right Reason posts and see the masks--like Bush-Cheney masks, Elliot Abram masks, Kissinger masks. Taking issue with some aspects of zionism does not entail anti-emitism, anyway.

It's Dr. Feser who's making the unwarranted inferences (following Popper, and Putnam, presumably). Popper's false dichotomy (in linked essay) shows the problem: Popper assumed that since empirical psychology can not account for what he terms "beliefs" that some form of Cartesian dualism holds. That was pre-cognitive science days, pre AI days--Popper seems to be reacting to Skinner (or Quinean naturalism perhaps).

The identity of brain events and mental events has not been proven, and we should be wary of reductionism--but physicalism is rather more plausible (ah induction--scary to dogmatists) than incorporeal souls floating in JHVH's mind.

Anonymous said...

What is it like, J, to have no intellectual conscience?

J said...

Not sure. Maybe ask Roger O'Mahoney.

I'm for Jefferson: not El Papa. When el Papa and Co bless TJ & Co, maybe I'd change my mind.

David Brightly said...

Dr Feser,

Can you explain why we need to identify *two* endpoints to our putative causal sequence? Surely we are looking to understand how the world has evolved to a point where a cat is on the mat and a neural process B which correlates with the thought 'the cat is on the mat' is taking place in the brain of a nearby observer. I agree that we need to identify process B. If we could observe all the events taking place we might in principle identify process B as the unique causal consequence of the presence of the cat and causal antecedent of an utterance 'the cat is hungry', say, and a going to the fridge. This would seem to be the best we could hope to achieve but it *does* meet the objectivity requirement, I think. But surely we do not have to identify a starting event A? We can take A as the state of the world at an arbitrary point in the past and observe how that state causally evolves into the present.

One further comment: a physicist would not speak of a causal *sequence*, I think. This is too one-dimensional. He would speak of a past event 'cone' consisting of all events causally antecedent to B and a future cone of all events consequent on B. As we go back in time more and more events are seen to contribute to B. And as we go forwards in time from B more and more events are seen as consequent upon it.

Ismael said...

So the law holds that consuming alcohol over a certain amount is sufficient to show that a person's cognitive abilities have been affected by external, physical factors--alcohol in the case of DUIs.


QED



If you think you want to prove materialism in this way.... you are waaaay wrong.

Aquinas would not deny that the mind is interconnected and affected also in physical terms.

You assert "I have a fairly good grasp of modern phil. and cognitive science ", well that might true, but clearly you do NOT know (or understand) Aquinas (and Aristoteles) philosophy regaring the soul (and indeed the mind).

"so they forget Hume at least"

Hume is ridiculous. If you want to do science you cannot agree with Hume's puerile ideas on casuality...

For that matter, science has done quite well w/o Aristotle's "teleological" cause--and evolution provides quite a few instances of failed/imperfect species

Too bad that this has little or nothing to do with Aristoteles teleological argument (and even less with Aquinas')

For that matter, empiricism (and dare we say materialism) is not unknown in Catholic tradition:

"Nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit prius in sensu."

So, like St. Aquinas the heretic, and even Lockean. At the very least that seems to be a denial of a priori knowledge, one of the dualists or rationalists points of faith.



Like I said, you fail to grasp what Aquinas means.

You thin that Aristotle's or Aquinas' ideas on the immaterial soul is some form or another od Cartesian Duality, where soul (or mind) and body are two distinct and fully separate things.

Unfortunately you cannot be more wrong.

Indeed Aquinas did not deny at all that the mind is also reflected in the phisical world (ie the senses as your latin quotation affirms), but also cannot be reduced to pure materialis.

Hence your whole discourse croumbles like a house of cards during an earthquake.
----

Before making an ass of yourself you should read and indeed understand Aristoteles and Aquinas, rather than licking Hume's boots.

QED

Anonymous said...

I think this would be the answer to Brightly's question:

"Now, specifying the relevant causal relation entails specifying a relevant beginning point to the series and a relevant end point. We have to identify some physical phenomenon as that which does the representing, and some other physical phenomenon as that which is represented; or in other words, we have to pick out one thing as the thought, and another thing as that which is thought about."